BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — The 2010-11 women's basketball season didn't start well for Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant.
Prize recruit Madison Williams, a 6-foot-7 McDonald's All-American, tore the ACL and MCL in her right knee in the Green-White game just days before the season opener.
Turns out, that was one of the few things that went wrong.
Michigan State went on to win 27 games and capture its first outright Big Ten title in school history. The 27 wins were the second most in program history.
Merchant, a former Traverse City Central standout, was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year by both the conference coaches and the media.
In October, Michigan State's Board of Trustees approved changes to Merchant's "rolling" five-year contract, complete with a pay hike.
In November, Merchant, now in her fifth year with the Spartans, picked up her 100th win at Michigan State.
That sequence of events makes it the Record-Eagle's No. 4 local sports story of 2011.
And what a 2011 it was for the Traverse City native. Even without Williams.
"When we lost Madison Williams I honestly thought it was going to be a tough year for us," Merchant said. "There's not many 6-7 All-Americans around. What I was most proud of is that we had to completely abandon, not everything, but most everything we were working on — from how we defended the post, how we defended screens on the defensive side of the ball to completely playing backwards on the other side, going from an inside-out team to an outside-in. And we had to do that in four days."
The Spartans have started the 2011-12 season 8-5, heading into Big Ten play Friday at Indiana. Once again, Merchant lost Williams for the season when she tore her ACL in her left knee in mid-November.
That's opened up minutes for Central Lake freshman Jasmine Hines, Merchant's first recruit from the Traverse City area. The 6-3 Hines is averaging 6 points and 2.2 rebounds.
"She's a great coach," Hines said. "I've always been more of an offensive player, and not so much defense. But she's all about defense. Coming in, it was really different. But she knows what she's talking about. She's very easy to respect. When she's talking to you, you listen."
The Spartans only have three seniors on the roster.
"She's really building the program," Hines said. "We're kind of off to a slow start this year, but we're really young and we're starting to play together. Hopefully, when we get to Big Ten play, we'll have our stuff together."